Category Archives: Political Action

What Do We Do When the Whole World Feels Like its Falling to Pieces?

In this blog I focus on plants.  Any gardener, botanist or horticulturist knows that plants, all living organisms, live in an incredibly complex, interwoven network of systems, each affecting the others, the health of anyone, in large part determined by the health of the ‘whole’.  Life does not and cannot exist in a vacuum.  We humans are also very much living organisms and subject to the same kind of limits as any species.  What we build and produce, including those more abstract things like our social and economic systems upon which we are very much dependent, are subject to the same natural laws and limits, whether we recognize them or not.  Very much a part of this is how we value other life collectively.  Just because many may say other people and species are of less value, does not make this fact.  The laws and ways of ‘man’ must remain within, and consistent with, the laws of nature.  We are not at liberty to treat other life as expendable.  We owe a debt and responsibility to all life.  Life permits and supports us so it is incumbent upon us to do the same for it.  Such is the natural law of reciprocity. Continue reading

Toward a Redefinition of Work

Several different Panicum, Miscanthus and Pennisetum cultivars were planted in large sweeps across more than an acre of bank above the Willamette River here. For several years, late each winter, we gathered in mass for the ‘Harvest’ cutting them down and removing the debris as we were unable to get permits to burn them. Maintenance on this site was always labor intensive given the manner in which it was planted, large sweeps of clumping grasses with nothing in between as per the design. Over time irrigation was discontinued and a more xeric, complex of other plants were added, changing how the work is done.  Anyone working in the plant world knows how undervalued the work is and the compensation those doing it receive.  No one doing the work is getting rich.  Those who do it are either sustained in part by their passion for plants, their desire to work outside and/or at least some degree of desperation…and Portland is becoming an even more expensive place to live as are all West Coast cities.

In this time of political chaos and environmental threats it is difficult to keep my mind only on plants….Nothing in the living world is easily separable from the whole, its context. The following is reflective of my interest in people. My first degree was in sociology.

Work is what we do with our lives. It is what we ‘spend’ our lives doing, whether we are paid or compensated well or not, whether it is a joy or drudgery. Through our ‘work’ we give our lives purpose and meaning, or we don’t. When we speak of it, it is as an expression of our lives…one’s ‘life’ work.

Work is a reflection of our place in our community and society, our role. It is through ‘work’ that the needs of the community are met. What compensation we receive is in proportion to how our community and society values us as individuals as well as the work that we do. When work is not this, when our work itself is demeaned, so are we who do it. When this happens to us we search for other ways to find value in our own lives…or for distraction. When we receive only monetary remuneration for our work, when even we ourselves, fail to recognize the value of the work that we do, when it isn’t ‘fulfilling’, we have a huge hole to fill in our lives.

It is difficult, but doable, to retain one’s dignity in one’s work when those around us recognize neither the value of our work nor our lives. Sadly, we have fallen into the trap set by the larger economy and owners for us, measuring value by the dollars that they are willing to pay. We are raising a generation who sees little value in the necessity of manual work, of hand labor…even the construction trades, historically valued and well compensated, is attracting fewer of our young people. We are learning not to seek satisfaction in paid work, that pay should be enough and that fulfillment, satisfaction, should be found in our shrinking free time, in recreational pursuits, which are defined very narrowly and separately from work.

Work today is, by and large, not creative. It has been reduced to a narrow Protestant, even Calvinistic definition, as a kind of servitude, even a punishment, something we must do to attain our reward and salvation. We have demeaned not only work, but our own value as human beings in the process. Because we spend so much of our lives doing it, work should be creative, fulfilling and satisfying, in multiple ways. We should pursue it because it is satisfying allowing us to contribute to our communities and the support of our families. We are not interchangeable cogs.
There is nothing ‘fair’ about the vast range of pay, the chasm, between those who ‘labor’ and create the product or service and those who own it and decide who gets what. We are all taught that life is not fair, though we have a base understanding that it should be. We have learned that those in positions of power will take what they can and that we will be left with what remains…and, many of us, were our positions switched, would do the same…and very few of us see how simple and just the solution is. We have been taught that money and wealth is adequate compensation for unfulfilling work and we play and recreate very hard to make up for what we’ve given up. We do not live our lives as we do because we must, we do it out of choice, informed or not. Right or wrong.
How we value work reflects how we value our own lives and those of others, how we structure jobs, our relationship with work, our relationships with one another. We need to redefine our idea of work, set it in proper relationship with our lives, make it mean more than a paycheck. All work, if worth doing, should afford those who do it adequate and just compensation so that they can live healthy and secure lives. Work should be important in and of itself. Work should add value to our own lives while it does the same for the world around us…instead of a disconnected opportunity to take for ourselves. It should emphasize and build the relationships between us instead of set us against one another as it does in today’s world in which we literally consume the Earth while diminishing the lives of others at the same time. Ultimately, the result of our work must make the world a better place, because to set the standard lower is to compromise our lives and the Earth. Our work, in this sense, is our ‘contribution’ to the planet and as is true in all things, our impacts are both individual and accumulative. We build or destroy through our combined efforts. This is something we must understand if the human ‘experiment’ is to continue.

Recognizing and Using the Power We still Have: Moving Toward a More Sane & Livable Future

I know, politics again!  Gardening affords us all an escape from the mess of politics…but that ‘mess’ promises to take even that from us.

I’ve heard it argued that there is no point in having money and power if you do not use them. It certainly seems to be a popular or even dominant view in the US today. In a country where many of us feel relatively powerless to affect change or even have some degree of control to keep our own lives from falling to pieces, many of us would seem to identify with the man who today epitomizes the extreme of this position, our president, Donald Trump. His standard places winning above all else and it doesn’t matter what’s at stake, if he simply says he wants something, that is the only thing that matters.  He must win!  Nothing and no one can matter more.  To compromise is losing.  To take others and their position into consideration, is weakness….Whether there are other legitimate positions on something does not matter, once a position is taken, game on and there is no retreat, because this narrow idea of one’s honor matters far more than what might be best, or fair, or ethical, legal or moral.  Making these choices is a personal selfish matter.  There is no point in making an informed decision because being correct, or accurate, making the best decision based on our best scientific understanding of a problem or the most considered decision based on the consequences that will follow…doesn’t enter the ‘thought’ process at any point.   What matters is being in control and showing others that you are the most powerful. To do this you are willing to use every tool at your disposal. Continue reading

On Ecology, Politics and Climate Change: the Links that Tear us Asunder

Warning!!! This is a rant! It’s political, economic, ecological and, most definitely, covers all of the connections between with climate change, these things and our future as a species.  I hope you choose to read it, but be forewarned!!

I woke up yesterday at 4:30am, unable to go back to sleep, so I got up and began writing this.  The state of the world, the absolute idiocy, meanness and short sightedness of politics today, the undeniable enormity of climate change and its inevitable impacts for every organism on the planet, drives me from paralyzing frustration, to near rage, to profound sadness and despair.  Most days all I can do is seek escape and I do this through gardening, reading eclectically, trying to follow some kind of routine, going for walks, a swim or a hike, sharing time with friends or delving into research on plants and the everyday miracles within them and their wondrously choreographed lives here on this planet….I spent my entire morning writing and rewriting this (and returned to it the following day, now today).  It is me ‘sharing’.  Yes, it’s a rant, it’s a bit of analysis, it’s a window into the world as I see it and it contains a hope I have…that I have to cling to most days, for this world and all that lives upon it, because what we have done, what we continue to do, is so profoundly destructive and disheartening to me. Continue reading

On the Necessity of Poetry in the World

In Pinnacles National Park on the High Peaks Trail

Unlike the Irish, who embrace and celebrate their poets, or the Japanese with their several centuries long history of haiku, we Americans embrace the rational, the utilitarian and too often jot our observations down in reductionist, artless lines….I know that is not always true, but face it, we scoff at poetry, unless it is dressed in the postures of hip-hop or pop culture, ambient lyrics vying for our attention in the ‘battle’ to attract customers.  Poets take as a given the mystery and beauty of life.  They do not shy away from the sharp edges and risks.  Like visual artists, whose eyes cause them to see the world in a multiplicity of ways, poets describe a mutable, ineffable world, that is different from moment to moment, whose ‘boundaries’ shift and transform that which they appear to contain…as if the world were an experiment in the shifting perspective of quantum physics….Poets ‘paint’ with swaths and scrawls of letters across the page, measured and rhythmic, a code, an illumination, a pathway they’ve scribed across a page, from heart to heart across the beating Earth.  We Americans crave solidity, a stable world where being and life are fixed and knowable…we leave the rest for God and the egg-heads as if these things don’t really matter to us…as they are beyond our ken and responsibility.  The world of the poet raises too many questions for us and questions can undermine the investment we’ve put into our fixed world image upon which we’ve staked our lives.  Americans are blindered gamblers and most of us have placed our bets on the same outcome.

I do read poetry…even attempt to write it sometimes.  I read science and history, politics and about the social ways of my fellows.  I garden and often agonize over what is ‘wrong’ in this world…what we can do to heal it.  Poetry teaches us that connection is often not found in a straight line.  Solution is not found in the old ways of thinking, ways that can only lead us down this path we seem to be fatally connected to.  Poetry is opening and inclusive, it speaks to what we share, what we stand to lose.  To read it requires something different of us, that we exercise and strengthen long neglected muscles, muscles that once moved us through our childhood worlds of wonder and awe.  The adult world has largely banished this, stripped life of wonder, and with it, the value integral to the heart of all things.  We scoff at those who speak of this, call them childish and dismiss them….This is what we’ve lost and the world so desperately needs today.  Continue reading

A Course Correction: The Wild and the Human, On Repairing the Relationship Between Politics, Economics and the Environment

“We are the odd ones, with bright eyes, that see the wonder of a bountiful world.  We don’t look through rose colored glasses…we’ve only removed the veil that breaks and blinds….Now, to cut the strings that tie us to the lie. ”  Lance Wright, Jan. 2019

Echinops ritro in front of a Miscanthus gracillimus several years ago at Holladay Park. A series of perennial beds were created with help from a notable local designer. For a variety of reasons related to budget, staffing and vandalism, the beds declined.  Beauty, that necessary elixir, truly abounds, but we must be cognizant of the forms in which we accept it and be committed to what it requires to flourish.

Gardeners are my people…well, actually, so are botanists, horticulturists, entomologists, ecologists, the weekend outdoor adventurers who in regular moments of awe, pause to take in the daily wonder of the world…anyone, really, who works with or has become enamored with the living natural world (and I’m going to include geologists too, at least those not taking their livelihood from resource extraction).  I have a theory, that as our modern world becomes increasingly urbanized, and transformed by our use to that which supports urban living, more of us are becoming consciously aware of what we are losing, of the natural world that has been sacrificed, developed, along the way…and in ways, large and small, many, but still far too few of us, are choosing to make our lives reflect this understanding. We question the ‘stuff’ we have crowded our lives with, that ‘stuff’ we’ve spent our lives to procure while following the dream we’ve all been sold on.  Many of us garden on whatever we have available to us whether it’s a quarter acre, a Juliet balcony or a kitchen counter space.  We plant gardens for food or to support pollinators, to have something green and growing in our homes, we grow small succulents for their simple beauty, flowers for the vase or plants that provide cover and fruit for songbirds, there are many reasons…and we do this for the pleasure that it gives us, for the satisfaction that we are doing something to heal an increasingly ‘broken’ world.  Yet the world continues to spiral down into more ugly chaos, in spite of our increasing awareness…it is not enough.  I find myself drawn even more into the wonder and beauty of a single plant, the ‘miracle’ of life and the amazing complexity, the inter-relatedness of living communities…because, in spite of how our society views this planet and the countless organisms it routinely dismisses as secondary, and unnecessary or of little commercial value…life is in fact the center of meaning and value. Continue reading

The Politics of Life: Courage, Imagination and Living a New World

Nature, in all of its wildness, is ultimately the seat of all beauty. If we are to continue on as a species we must find our place within it. Taken from the climber’s trail ascending East Peak, 9,380′, via the ridge from Mount Howard, in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of far northeastern Oregon.

Politics is the process whereby society makes decisions, the process it uses to establish the broader, though sometimes quite specific, rules by which we live and work.  Our government is a representative, democratic republic.  Our governance is a public matter intended to serve the public good…to support or improve the lives of its citizens…not that of a monarch, an oligarch, despot, feudal lord or leader of a church.  It is a democracy in which citizens exercise their right to be heard through their vote and we do this generally by electing representatives who work in our interest.  In some cases issues are referred to citizens or initiated by us on particular matters, but we do this primarily through our election of representatives.  Ideally representatives focus and amplify the will of their constituents, expressing this through the bills that they introduce and their vote.  If this will is muddled, indecisive or polarized, so to is its direction leaving an opening for other influences, such as lobbyists, to effect their votes.  It can be easily argued that a divided constituency is just what powerful interests want as it will increase their own influence…divide and conquer!  When that collective voice of the citizens is more focused and powerful, powerful interest lose influence and political decision making will reflect this.  We are ‘taught’ early on that our ‘voice’ is limited to our voting in elections, but this is not true.  Everything we do, all of our choices, have political ramifications, what we buy, where we buy it from, how we get to work, what we do there, how we choose to spend our non-working hours, how we treat others.  We help shape the world through our choices.  Government is an extension of our collective voice, our collective actions.  Government is not the cavalry, not the hero, in our story…we are and we are also our own enemy and fool.  If anyone is going to ‘ride’ to our rescue it is each one of us. Continue reading

The Insect Apocalypse is Here!

From the title page of the NYTM article

Much of today’s news media mires us in the sensational, adding little to our desperate need for clarity.  Instead we are subjected to endless ‘stories’ whose primary intent seem to be distraction, obfuscation, dissipation and division, leaving us at best numbed and discouraged from taking effective action….I know many who would say that this is precisely their intent.  This is not, however, true in every case.  I only recently came across this story in the New York Times Magazine, yes that bastion of unabashedly liberal ‘fake news’.  On the face of it, it is another such story.  The story’s title plainly states, ‘APOACALYPSE’, a word which carries so much negative baggage that its inclusion alone will keep many readers away…but don’t be dissuaded!  This article is more ‘wakeup call’ than hammer.  It is a call for action not the simple manipulative emotional plea that has become an integral part of current political strategy.  It clearly defines and lays out the problem, which is absolutely essential to taking effective action.  It does indeed paint a frightening and devastating future for us all…if we choose to continue on our current path, but it also points out a way through it, and, throughout the entire article, it introduces us to individuals and organization who are credible and passionate witnesses and actors in their efforts to make a positive difference.  This is exactly what we need right now.  Powerlessness is not an option.  Read the article!

The Insect Apocalypse Is Here!

The Lower Deschutes River: the Incursion of Invasive Plants and our Failure to Responsibly Maintain Native Plant Communities

This picture should give anyone more than enough reason to visit here, the Deschutes sliding out its mouth into the Columbia with the Washington side of the Gorge in the distance, the low angled early evening sun illuminating everything sharply.

 

[As I go over this post yet again, July 21, the 80,000 acre Substation Fire is still burning across canyon and wheat country here.  Included in the blaze are the 20 miles of the Lower Deschutes canyon down to the campground at the confluence with the Columbia.  Much of this burned down to within 2′ or 3′ of the riverbank including the historic Harris Ranch buildings.  So, when you look at all of these pictures, with the exceptions of where the fire hopped and skipped, everything is charred.  The Oregon Wildlife Federation, formed in the 1980’s to purchase and protect this portion of the canyon, has stepped up with $100,000 to help the area recover.  It will take considerably more especially if there is any intention of making headway regarding the spreading invasives problem.]

[Now, another 2 weeks later more massive fires continue to burn across the dried up West that has just experienced another record breaking month of heat, while the president goes on ‘bleating’ and blaming it on our ‘bad’ environmental laws and all of the water we’re diverting into the ocean!  ‘F’ing! moron!]

The last time we came here was eight years ago in December.  My memory of then is much like the experience on this evening…only it was clear and cold.  The light was similar except that then the low angled sun was due to winter, with that season’s urgency, not a late Spring evening like this outing.  This time it is warm, camp is comfortable and nearby and the greens are still gathered around the river and the still moist draws and seeps.  On that day we’d gone to Hood River for my birthday, to get out of town and there was a break in the weather so we drove here to these trails at the mouth of the Deschutes, hiked along the river, returning on the upper springs trail.  Winter or summer, green only sticks around a little longer than we do, before it retreats…life is shier here, tough, but shy.  The starkness of this landscape should be read as a warning to visitors, this is no easy Eden.  Life is earned here or at least requires a strength, patience and frugality that many don’t have.  This is much the same for people as it is for wildlife and plants.   Them that don’t, can’t.  That’s why it may be surprising to some that such a place has a problem with exotic invaders.  What could possibly look on places such as this as ‘favored’?  Well, Central Asia, especially its Steppe, with its continental, cold and dry climate containing many species that see such a place as this as home, or even better, without the competitors they faced back there.  The temperature can swing widely here on any given day while the seasonal extremes can vary as much as 125ºF from high to low.  Relatively few plants can thrive in this.  The dry summers with their very limited and sporadic thunder showers, combined with the ‘wet’ winters, total only 10″-12″ or so of precipitation, plus or minus, is another major limiting factor.  Of course, near the river, the moisture problem is moderated  and a broader range of invasives can find a ‘foothold’.  We, as a people, have ‘brought’ these weeds here with us in our travels, often as a result of our commerce.  Those that have made it here are spreading.  Too many prosper. Continue reading

My Father’s America and Tomorrow

My father in 1930 on the Green Ridge family farm

My father was born in 1922 on Denman Island, a small island, roughly 12 miles long, on the coast of British Columbia, located about 124 miles north of Victoria, BC.  His family lived there on a small subsistence farm without electricity, indoor plumbing, a car, a truck or a tractor.  To get work done required their own muscle or the help of their horses or neighbors.  Water came from a hand pumped well, heat from trees they took down on their land.  They produced much of what they ate in a large vegetable garden and orchard storing it in the root cellar below their house, and the occasional deer and fish they could make time to catch.  They had chickens for their eggs and meat and kept pigs to sell as well as for meat.  They kept bees for honey.  A herd of dairy cows, Guernsey’s, because of their high butter fat milk, was their primary source of income, separating out the cream each day, storing it in large cans that they would lower down into their well to keep cool so that it wouldn’t spoil.  Once a week they and other farms hauled it by wagon to the general store.  There it would be picked up by a truck that came over on the ferry which would carry it to the plant in Courtney for processing into butter and other products.  What skim milk they didn’t use they fed to the livestock.  They would slaughter extra calves for their own consumption.  It was a relatively common life, not that many years ago, that to today’s highly urbanized, consumer population, might seem light years ago.  I’ve often wondered at the ‘adjustments’ my parents had to make to make sense of this world today.  I’m beginning to understand now that I am well into my 60’s and retired myself. Continue reading